A cultural extravaganza or a damp squib?

The three-day World Culture Festival leaves behind a stinking mess

GN Bureau | March 16, 2016


#Yamuna   #NGT   #Environment   #Art of Living   #World Culture Festival   #Sri Sri Ravi Shankar  
People taking shelter from rain at the World Culture Festival
Photo: Arun Kumar

Unpredictable rains, “unsafe stage”, and environment activists could not dampen the spirits of Sri Sri Ravishankar’s three-day mega event, World Culture Festival. Dubbed as a “cultural olympics” by the Art of Living (AoL) founder, the event concluded on Sunday amidst various controversies. 

 
Riding high on the success of the three-day extravaganza, the spiritual guru addressed the media on the last day of the event. He accused media of being “harsh” on him and said that “party politics should be kept aside” when such events are organised. He even informed that AoL has received invitations from countries like Australia and Mexico to host such events.
 
But the culmination of the event was not a happy one after all. Many media reports highlighted the damage done to the floodplains, mismanagement of the performances and the garbage mess left behind. 
According to a report by Hindustan Times, piles of trash littered were around the venue. Despite private agencies been appointed to collect and clean the garbage, a handful of volunteers and ragpickers were seen cleaning the mess. Also, the floodplain with porous sand forming its top layer was covered with mud and flattened by road rollers over several days before the festival began. Clay and compacted mud do not allow water to seep in, which is essential to replenish the groundwater.
 
A story carried out by The Quint claimed that the garbage mess was left to be cleaned by rag-pickers and contracted agencies. Spokespersons for the foundation said that more than one thousand volunteers would return to the festival grounds to assist in the clean-up process but very few volunteers were found. The report also said that executives from contracting companies charged with the clean-up say they are only responsible for the festival grounds, and not for any of the damage done outside of the event premises, such as garbage scattered on the fields and thrown in the river.
 
The festival started with the organisers boasting about a never-before participation of 35,973 artistes from across the country and the world. But, after speaking to a few artists that performed at the event, some newspapers claimed that as the first day of the festival ended; many of the artistes opted out, claiming it to be a nightmarish experience for them.
 
In a Facebook post, Olga Chepelianskia, a Kathak dancer from France, wrote why she cancelled her performance at the last day of the event. She says that they could have been provided with better human conditions, “That means better than children sitting in water for an hour and lying down with fever today, hours of standing in the mud in wet shoes waiting to somehow get out of the place, buses stuck in the middle of a sewage floodplain, malaria bearing mosquitoes in countless numbers, girls reaching home alone past midnight and so on.”
 
 
Days ahead of the event, organisers and banners claimed a footfall of 35 lakh of the three-day event. Though no actual figures have been declared as to how many people attended it, it was clear from the live broadcasts that many seats were left unoccupied. 
 
According to an Indian Express report, gangs from across the country targeted visitors and amid high security and made away with valuable articles like laptops, jewellery and cash, leading to over 70 FIRs and about 30 persons being apprehended.

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